Chicken Growth Hormones

The Truth about “Hormone Free” Chickens

How many times have we gone to the grocery store to get food for dinner, and saw a label on our favorite protein, chicken, that stated “Hormone Free.” I hate to be the one to break it to you, but those labels are lying.

NO chicken, at all, no matter what, is completely “hormone free.” Chickens naturally produce growth hormones. Mississippi State University Extension explains this a little more when they said, “Progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen are naturally occurring hormones in both humans and animals. These hormones are necessary for normal development, growth, and reproduction.” As MSU Extension explains, hormones occur naturally in chickens so that is why the label, “hormone free” is incorrect.

Chickens Growth Hormones

Labels like these are misleading to consumers.

Another label that is misleading is “No Hormones Added.” Additive hormones are banned by the FDA and have been for the past 50 years. So no growth hormones are added to the chicken we eat, because they are illegal so when companies market their chicken as “No Added Hormones” just realize that this label applies to all chicken eaten in the United States.

This video from the USPoultry Association featuring interviews with professors and extension specialists from the University of Arkansas does a great job describing that hormones are not used in the poultry industry, and why they are not used. It also shows how chickens are raised, showing the housing, feeding operations, and overall care of poultry in the United States.

Chicken Growth Hormones

The left-hand chicken is a breed from 1957. The middle chicken is a breed from 1978. The right-hand one is a breed from 2005. They were all raised in the same manner for this paper and were photographed at the same age.

Poultry Science, a scientific journal, recently did a study on the effect of selective breeding on growth, efficiency, and yield of broilers, or chickens produced to be eaten. The study took mixed-sex chicks and grew them according to a current nutritional program to 56 days. They took front and side portraits of 8 birds per strains. They also measured growth rate, feed intake, and measures of feed efficiency including feed conversion ratio, residual feed intake, and residual maintenance energy requirements.

This study says that, “From 1957 to 2005, broiler growth increased by over 400%, with a concurrent 50% reduction in feed conversion ratio…” This study proves that the size of broilers has increased over time because of selective breeding that has consequently increased feed conversion ratios.

Another reason, besides legality that chickens are not given growth hormones is that they are not effective. Dr. Berry, a poultry science professor from Auburn University explains why, “Growth is complex; no one hormone can affect it. The hormone everyone considers a growth hormone is a protein hormone that is in all vertebrate. It cannot be taken orally, because it is digested normally, to be effective it would have to be injected. The injections would have to be given every 90 minutes to be in correlation with the pulses of the natural hormones in the chicken. We have 110-120 million birds growing in Alabama at any given moment, so 120 million birds would have to be given an injection every 90 minutes; obviously that is not economical at all.” This is a reason that surprises a lot of consumers, but it is another main reason that hormones are not used in the poultry industry.

So the next time that you hear that chickens are larger than in the past because they are fed growth hormones, just realize that is actually not true. Chickens are not fed or injected with growth hormones, they just have naturally increased size over time. So when you see a label that has “No hormones added” or “hormone free” just remember that NO chicken, at all is hormone free,  and no chickens have hormones added to them. So feel confident when buying chicken from the store or from Chick-Fil-A by realizing you are not eating something with growth hormones.

A Dairy Misconception: Malnourished Cows

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Finding these cows similarities, could be difficult but finding the differences are very easy. As for similarities: they are both female cattle (cows) that have calved semi recently. It is obvious in the picture in the right of the Hereford because she has a calf beside her, in the picture of the Jersey (on the left) there is no calf but you can tell that she has calved somewhat recently because of her large udder.

As for the differences, their builds contrast one another. The Jersey on the left looks skinny, as her hip bones and ribs are showing. The Hereford is very stoutly built, she has adequate rib shape and depth. The Hereford is nursing a calf at her side, but produces less milk than the Jersey. Lactation in any animal, including humans, is the single most energy demanding activity.  Hereford cattle produce about 10-12 pounds of milk a day, while Jersey cattle produce around 50 pounds a day, which takes 10x more of the cows energy. The more energy spent to produce milk is less energy that will be used to produce meat. This does not mean that the Jersey is malnourished!! As a dairy cow she just has a different body type than beef cattle. This difference in body type is because of each cows purpose.

A dairy cow being skinny is not her being malnourished, it is actually called dairy characteristics. Dairy cattle are supposed to produce milk, so they expend a lot of energy doing just that. “Producing milk and growing body tissue are different physiological processes, under different controls” says Dr. Keith Cummins a retired dairy professor from Auburn University.

I hope the next time you see a a dairy cow, either in person or in a picture you will better understand why she looks “malnourished” and understand that she is not, she is actually a perfectly healthy cow that is working very hard to produce milk for you and your family.

The Truth About Antibiotics and Hormones in Beef

The use of hormones and antibiotics in the beef we eat is being questioned individually and on a large scale. An example of this is Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, chairman, and co-CEO, who stated the chain was going to import beef from over 8,000 miles away in Australia, because the supply of antibiotic and hormone free beef has dwindled recently. That is his opinion, and he is entitled to it, but I just wanted to help spread awareness about how antibiotics and hormones are used in the beef industry.

The different antibiotics used in humans and beef cattle

Top antibiotics in humans vs. animals

Most people do not realize that the main antibiotics used in production agriculture are different from the main antibiotics used for human treatment, so the formation of “superbugs” from agricultural use of antibiotics is unlikely. This is helped by farmers following the prescription regiment better than human patients do (mostly because the cattle can’t tell us they “feel fine, they don’t need anymore medicine.”)

People that do not take/finish their antibiotic prescriptions from the doctor are more likely to contribute to the formation of “superbugs” than farmers who administer antibiotics to their sick cattle to prevent a loss.

Another protection protocol is that all antibiotics come with specific labels about the length of time (between 14-22 days) from the final administration of the antibiotic and harvest of the animal. The time span provided depends on the antibiotic, the dosage, and the length of the prescription; this time frame allows for enough time for the antibiotic to leave the animal’s system.

Now for the next thing Steve Ells said that US beef couldn’t provide, hormone free beef. The US can’t provide it because it is impossible, all living things have hormones so there is no such thing as “hormone free” beef. But we’ll just assume he meant no added hormones. It is true, some farms use added hormones to aid in raising their cattle, this is perfectly legal unlike in the poultry and pork industries. Hormones in cattle are administered through an implant under the skin on the back of the ear and are released slowly over time. Since the ear is one of the few parts of the beef carcass that we discard the implant never enters the food industry.

Now for the part everyone is worried about, the amount of hormones that actually end up in our food. Research has shown that a 3 oz natural, non-implanted steak has 1.39 nano grams of estrogen. A 3 oz hormone implanted steak has 1.89 nano grams of estrogen. In comparison 3 oz of cabbage has 2,017 nano grams, one birth control pill has 34,000 nano grams, and a normal adult male has 136,000 nano grams of estrogen. All of these numbers are well and good, but how much is a nano gram? It is one-billionth of a gram, in other words not a lot! To put that in a visual perspective if you took a paper clip and then tore it into 1 billion pieces, one of those pieces would be about equal to a nano gram.

While Steve Ells and Chipotle choose to source beef from over 8,000 miles away, I am perfectly satisfied with my American raised beef, because I know the truth about antibiotics and hormones in beef.